Combating Child Porn Tops Cameron U.K. Agenda

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

In July Prime Minister David Cameron threatened to require companies offering home Internet service to install filters that automatically block pornography; subscribers would need to “opt in” to view such material. Close

In July Prime Minister David Cameron threatened to require companies offering home... Read More

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Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

In July Prime Minister David Cameron threatened to require companies offering home Internet service to install filters that automatically block pornography; subscribers would need to “opt in” to view such material.

Revelations that BBC TV host Jimmy Savile sexually abused hundreds of children have spurred anger across Britain. With voters enraged, Prime Minister David Cameron has made restricting access to pornography, and especially stamping out images of children, a signature issue.

Cameron in April asked public Wi-Fi networks to filter explicit content in public places such as cafes, rail stations and libraries, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its Dec. 2 edition. The six biggest providers have complied.

Then in July Cameron threatened to require companies offering home Internet service to install filters that automatically block pornography; subscribers would need to “opt in” to view such material. Once again, the industry agreed; by early 2014, the filters will be available for virtually all Internet accounts in Britain.

Adults wanting to view explicit content will “have to have a discussion” with their spouse or partner, Cameron told BBC Radio on Nov. 18.

At a London conference that day, Google Inc. and Microsoft (MSFT) Corp. announced controls that limit child porn searches, initiatives Cameron threatened to enforce through legislation if not enacted voluntarily. The companies have introduced algorithms that block illegal content and have halted auto-complete on potentially abusive search terms, so typing “underage g…” doesn’t suggest the word “girl.”

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Google is implementing technology that brands child porn videos with a unique ID code, which will help authorities remove any copies of such material that are later reposted to the Web. Close

Google is implementing technology that brands child porn videos with a unique ID code,... Read More

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Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Google is implementing technology that brands child porn videos with a unique ID code, which will help authorities remove any copies of such material that are later reposted to the Web.

Public Anger

Google is implementing technology that brands child porn videos with a unique ID code, which will help authorities remove any copies of such material that are later reposted to the Web.

The government effort comes after reports that Savile, host of the much-loved TV show Top of the Pops for 20 years, abused children on BBC property, in hospitals, and elsewhere. Public anger escalated after two men convicted of murdering young girls, in separate crimes, were found to be purveyors of child porn online.

Such cases, as well as Cameron’s initiatives, have boosted public awareness of the problem. Calls to a child abuse hot line run by the Internet Watch Foundation, an industry group tasked with fighting illegal porn, have climbed 40 percent in the past year.

The Prime Minister’s efforts highlight the difference between public attitudes and the legal system in Britain and those in many other countries. In France and Germany, where nudity isn’t unusual on late-night television and in advertising, such broad restrictions on erotic content might be considered overreaching. In the U.S., freedom of speech concerns would likely scuttle any broad effort to restrict access to so-called adult content.

Sensitive Area

“Looking for online content is a very sensitive area, even though child porn is illegal,” says Carolyn Atwell-Davis, vice president for government affairs at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in the U.S.

The Index on Censorship, a London-based group that promotes freedom of expression worldwide, says it’s studying Cameron’s measures. While restricting child pornography — which Britain also legally bans — is an admirable goal, mandatory porn filters are “slightly worrying,” said Padraig Reidy, a senior writer at the Index.

“It should be an active choice to opt out of adult content, and the government isn’t making it so,” Reidy said.

Even child safety advocates have come out against Cameron’s tactics. Pedophiles don’t search for victims on Yahoo! Inc., Google (GOOG), or Bing, but rather lurk on social networks frequented by kids and in chat rooms where they can remain anonymous, according to Jim Gamble, the former head of the U.K.’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

Easy Targets

“Google, Microsoft, and Facebook become easy targets for politicians,” Gamble said. “Going after private companies isn’t necessarily the way to go here.”

A more appropriate target, Gamble said, would be peer-to-peer networks where child porn is traded in anonymity. Much of that traffic is hosted on the Tor network, which was created by the U.S. government a decade ago to boost Internet freedom in authoritarian countries.

Meanwhile, the filters voluntarily deployed by Internet access providers sometimes block non-porn websites, according to Andrew Kernahan, public affairs manager at the country’s Internet Service Providers’ Association.

“We’ve been pushing the government to provide clarity around the legal issues on this,” Kernahan said.

Letzgo Hunting

Some groups, frustrated by what they see as government inaction, have seized the initiative. Angry parents in Leicestershire banded together under the name Letzgo Hunting to lure online pedophiles to meetings by posing as young girls. The group posted films of the encounters online and passed details on to authorities.

Leicestershire Police say six men were arrested, though none have been charged as officers gather more evidence. The group disbanded after a 23-year-old man jailed for child sex abuse killed himself when confronted by Letzgo Hunting.

Police asked the group to leave such inquiries to officers, said spokesman Brendan McGrath, “and not to start an amateur investigation.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Kristen Schweizer in London at kschweizer1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kenneth Wong at kwong11@bloomberg.net

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